Category Archives: Day by Day in the Classroom

Shifting the Focus of Pre-Reading Tasks

“I don’t nest on a tree! You just chose me because you like puffins!” Epstein Family Photos

You might think I am barking up the wrong tree.

Even if I am, it’s a tree well-chosen.

The short video that you see below “Too Quick to Judge” (3.42 min.)  obviously belongs to the genre of educational messages which we can refer to as “Don’t judge a book by its cover”.

Therefore, you would naturally assume that I would be using this video as a pre-reading task when teaching the story in our literature program “Mr. Know All” by Somerset Maugham. That story is about judging someone far too quickly based on his name and looks and this video certainly is related.

Nope.

Being judgmental…
Epstein Family Photos

I needed a pre-reading task for a group of struggling Deaf and hard of hearing learners (note: I also have very strong Deaf and hard of hearing learners!). They are wonderful young people, who are admirably determined to succeed, but their general knowledge can only be described as dismal and they get totally befuddled by abstract things such as metaphors.

The poem “As I Grew Older” by Langston Hughes uses the powerful metaphor of a “wall” to signify discrimination. I’ve decided to begin by focussing the pre-reading discussion on the significance of the wall, or rather a wall.

At first, I thought I the pre-reading task should be a mini American history lesson on slavery, civil rights, and discrimination. These issues will undoubtedly be discussed when I teach the poem itself (I discuss them when I teach the poem to my strong students) but I will not include them in the pre-reading.

The literacy educator Timothy Shanahan writes:

  1. ” Prior to reading, I will help students to think about ideas that are relevant to what is important or challenging in a text. (For example, if we are reading Moby Dick, the preparation activities will not emphasize whales, but obsession. Prior knowledge matters, but it has to be the knowledge that is relevant to what is important, rather than background information that is only superficially connected to the ideas).”  Quote from My New Year’s Resolutions for Teaching Reading Comprehension.
Dealing with walls…
Epstein Family Photos

My students will not understand the poem if they think that an actual brick wall actually popped up between the poet’s home and someplace he wanted to go.  These student’s default mode is to look at language in a very literal manner. Words should only have one concrete meaning as far as they are concerned. Some even complain that it is very inconsiderate of their feelings when this is not the case. Background knowledge won’t be helpful or meaningful if we don’t get them to relate the wall as a metaphor.

I believe the wall is a good place to start because these students actually have experience with a wall that needs to be broken. They all live with a hearing loss that affects their communication with the world around them and the way they are perceived by others.

For a change, I haven’t prepared any structured activities or worksheets for this video. In this case, an open discussion is needed. I’m going to write the word “wall” on the board and begin by asking them if they can imagine the wall between the boy and girl (who is Deaf!) sitting on the same bench and not communicating. Then I will ask if they can see other virtual barriers between people in this video. I believe that they will bring up points related to gender, race and perhaps economic status. I will sum up by reminding them that the wall is a metaphor yet they all understood it.

Once the students are prepared for a metaphor, we will be able to start learning the poem in its own context.

 

 

When Students use the “Fishbowl Response” – A Comment

The day after… Naomi’s Photos

On the last day of school I found myself, once again, visualising the first day of the next year school year. It’s the easiest day of the school year to visualise, unless you bother to count “the last day”, which I always spend stowing away supplies in the English Room.

It goes without saying that I see myself smiling and chatting with the students as they come in (or stop by) about how they spent their summer vacation.

However, there won’t be any formal lessons related in any way to the theme of “How I Spent My Summer Holidays”.

All because of “The Fishbowl Response”.

The what?!

You know, the response you get when you cheerfully inquire what a student did over the summer and he/she mumbles “Nothing” and turns quickly away.

So what does that response have to do with a fishbowl?!!

Alone…
Naomi’s Photos

The phrase “the fishbowl response” was inspired by a story Jamie Keddie told in one of his “Sunday Posts”, which I subscribe to. Keddie brilliantly combines visuals and storytelling – I love how a simple sign or an object becomes a thought-provoking story! In the post entitled “Are You a Fish in a Fishbowl?” Keddie tells us about a story from his own school days. In response to his teacher’s question (“What did you do at the weekend?”) he replied “nothing”.

She demanded to know if he was a fish in a fishbowl.

Oh!

My first reaction was a gut reaction.

I could never say that to a student, and I don’t think anyone should. Perhaps I’m particularly sensitive since I’m a Special Ed teacher, but children who reply with “nothing” are feeling vulnerable enough as it is, and are not likely to ponder metaphors and hidden meanings. In fact, they can easily feel insulted.

When you read the post you quickly see that Keddie’s point is that even  a fish in a fishbowl actually could have a story to tell. You don’t have to have had an exciting , eventful summer in order to have a story to tell. Your thoughts and experiences matter.

Let the story out!
Naomi’s Photos

So, considering that I agree wholeheartedly that every student, no matter how “boring” his/her summer vacation was, has something worthwhile to share, why do I refuse to plan a lesson on the topic?

Because it takes time, every single year, to create a safe classroom atmosphere – a class where everyone’s story is respected. Some teenagers, particularly in special ed classes, have pretty lonely summers. Not only do we need to teach students to respect someone else’s story, we need to teach students to recognize and respect their own stories.

That takes time.

One more thing, before you go:

Think about the “fish in the fishbowl”  for a minute longer. See how Jamie Keddie’s simple image becomes a focal point and helps get the message across?

Images matter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Former Students Pop In or How Does a Teacher’s Memory Work?

What gets caught?
Naomi’s Photos

“We’ve walked both sides of every street
Through all kinds of windy weather;
But that was never our defeat
As long as we could walk together”.      “Crossroads”,  Don McLean

I met the most recent former student, who had popped in for a visit,  in the teacher’s room. Thankfully, she hadn’t come down to the English Room first.  It made me feel slightly less bad to know that the other two teachers, who had also chatted with the student warmly about what she’s been doing and what she plans to do, didn’t remember her name either.

The student graduated six years ago…

When we did figure out the student’s name, I was taken aback. That student and I had really “walked” together for three whole years through all kinds of “windy weather”! She was one of those hard of hearing students who had arrived in 10th grade hell-bent on proving that not only didn’t she know any English, it would be impossible to teach her any.  It took quite a while until she agreed to “take my hand” so we could “walk together” and brave the elements with a security net.

“Can you remember who I was?
Can you still feel it?”      “Crossroads”,  Don McLean

There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to what I remember (or don’t) about which former student. With some it’s their name, with other’s it’s a task they handed in or the way they behaved in some situation.  Some students I remember a great deal about and some I barely remember. That’s particularly embarrassing as I teach most of the students for three years and I spend a great deal of time thinking about them.  I’m at school five days a week, too. But it seems as if there’s a capacity limit  – each new class of students seems to erase memories of previous students.

You know I’ve heard about people like me
But I never made the connection.           “Crossroads”,  Don McLean

I’ve been teaching for 32 years now..

At least when I  meet students whom I taught more than 10 years ago I no longer feel embarrassed to ask them their name.

But six years?

Does your memory work in the same manner? How do you deal with it?

 

ONE TWEAK AT A TIME: REFLECTING ON FANSELOW’S TEXTBOOK FOR EFL TEACHERS – 4. Active Listening

This is part four of my second blogging challenge, in which I experiment  with and reflect on some of the small changes recommended in John Fanselow’s “Small Changes in Teaching, Big Results in Learning” .  These challenges are a way for me to keep honing my teaching skills.

The Commander
(Not a pigeon, I admit, but still suitable)
Naomi’s Photos

“I led the pigeons to the flag” – do you know how many American first graders, native speakers, solemnly recite that each morning while pledging allegiance to the flag?  As William Saffire presents it in 100 Years of The New York Times: On Language :

“The most saluted man in America is Richard Stans. Legions of schoolchildren place their hands over their hearts to pledge allegiance to the flag, “and to the republic for Richard Stans.” With all due patriotic fervor, the same kids salute “one nation, under guard.” Some begin with “I pledge a legion to the flag,” others with “I led the pigeons to the flag.”

Fanselow’s section on Active Listening reminded me of this article, because he focuses on understanding how difficult it is for native speakers to understand / repeat / write  correctly words they aren’t familiar with when they hear them. Then he highlights the question: what are learners of English as foreign language actually hearing when we model  language? Is it what their teachers expect? Or are they blithely leading pigeons to the flag some of the time?

Not what you expect…
(Naomi’s Photos)

I’m so glad I read this section of the book too. Obviously, I can’t comment or try the suggested activities as they are not suitable for my classes of Deaf and Hard of Hearing students. But Fanselow answers the perennial question that teachers, who have a hard of hearing student in their regular English class often ask:

“Why does my hard of hearing student do so much better in his/her other subjects? When I have a conversation with him/her outside of class the student seems to understand me well! Perhaps the student needs to listen harder?”

You can’t “listen harder”.  The hard of hearing student understands you better in his/her native language because he knows the language better.

Fanselow doesn’t mention this in his book but I would like to point out the issue of acoustics. Poor classroom acoustics doesn’t help anyone and is certainly a big problem for a student who doesn’t hear well. Acoustics affect the teachers as well!  Here is an extremely short  (and teacher friendly!! ) Buncee presentation with some useful tips that could help make your day less tiring and make a significant difference to students: “The Sound of an “English Room”.

 

 

ONE TWEAK AT A TIME: REFLECTING ON FANSELOW’S TEXTBOOK FOR EFL TEACHERS – 3. Dialogues

This is part three of my second blogging challenge, in which I experiment  with and reflect on some of the small changes recommended in John Fanselow’s “Small Changes in Teaching, Big Results in Learning” .  These challenges are a way for me to keep honing my teaching skills.

It may be old, but new to me!
Naomi’s Photos

In the book, Fanselow brings up the issue of how the method of reading – thinking – speaking (without looking at the text) may seem to be just a tool for practicing dialogues, but that’s not its main use. The more I use the method now in class the more I understand what Fanselow means when he claims that it helps develop reading comprehension, vocabulary, syntax and more. I’ve just spent several lessons reading 120 word opinion compositions with three Deaf students in this manner(going for what we call their Module G matriculation exam soon). All three commented on how they felt focused on details of the composition and how it led to meaningful discussions.

Note – These students are Deaf so I had to write what they said as they spoke, so we could discuss it. In the book Fanselow has different suggestions for writing and other variations which I have not yet tried.

In any case, I was eager to try the method for practicing speech in pairs or small groups. It is very challenging for me to work on speech in my mixed level learning center. Not only are the students levels of English and academic abilities wildly different, their level of hearing and communication skills vary dramatically as well.

So here’s a Buncee Creation (thanks to Arlene Blum for introducing me to Buncee) to visualise the situation.

 

 

ONE TWEAK AT A TIME: REFLECTING ON FANSELOW’S TEXTBOOK FOR EFL TEACHERS – 2. Read and Look Up!

This is part two of my second blogging challenge, in which I experiment  with and reflect on some of the small changes recommended in John Fanselow’s “Small Changes in Teaching, Big Results in Learning” .  These challenges are a way for me to keep honing my teaching skills.

New constructions
Naomi’s Photos

I had heard of “Read and Look Up” before encountering this book, but never tried it in class. The rationale for having the students not recite a text mechanically while reading it from the page is clear and simple, that wasn’t what stopped me from trying it. It’s intuitive too, I can feel it on myself – a person can’t really focus on  comprehension and process the vocabulary, syntax and content presented in a text while focusing on reading aloud, particularly in a foreign language. It’s perfectly possible to read aloud from a page nicely without understanding what you have read.

What I hadn’t understood at all before reading Fanselow’s explanations and suggested activities is that reading a sentence (or two) silently, pausing and then looking at someone  before saying the words is not simply an exercise in memory and parroting! Now that I had something concrete to “hold on to”, I started trying some of the variations presented in the book , inventing additional variations along the way to suit my own students.

Having a ladder helps!
Naomi’s Photos

The “Advanced” Student – An Individual Lesson

10th grade student, top-level, hard of hearing, but in a quiet, one-on-one setting, can hear fairly well with her hearing aids. She speaks clearly too.

I gave the student, whom we’ll call R., an unfamiliar text written as an opinion essay on whether high school should be required to volunteer in the tenth grade or not. I had no idea if the activity I was going to try was suitable for such a strong student as R. ,but this was a text I had wanted to use in any case. I gave R. no explanations, just asked her to read to herself a sentence or two, turn over the page and say what she read.

R. did as I asked.

She replaced some words with others as she spoke.

I was delighted!

I praised her, explaining that replacing words was wonderful and told her that I wanted us to examine together what exactly she was doing.  I pulled out scrap paper and a pen and asked R. to begin again and wrote down every word she said. The situation amused R. –  she was speaking and I was the one writing furiously.

We paused after every two sentences (more or less) to compare what R. had said with the original text. We noted which words she had replaced with others and whether they meant the same as the original or not. If not, I suggested other words she could have used. For example, she said “In the beginning” instead of “At first”, which is great. When she said “the experience has donated  far more to me” instead of “contributed” we discussed the difference between the two words.

Then R.  read (with page turned over, remember?) two long sentences verbatim. She hadn’t replaced a single word or omitted a single one. R. then looked at the text and asked:

” I used the words in the text. I don’t know other words to use here.  Can you tell me?”

Needless to say, I was happy to oblige.

Look up!
Naomi’s Photos

“The Struggling Learners” – Individual Lessons

12th grade students, hard of hearing / Deaf students who use sign language in addition to speech, their speech is not always clear, all have additional learning disabilities, poor language skills in their mother tongue.  These students are practicing for the writing section on their upcoming “Module C” final exam, which for them is a very simple, informal letter, 35-40 words long. It is a difficult task for them.

I gave each student a sample letter we had used in class before.  The students are already familiar with the format – their final exam is in three weeks! Once again I first had the student look at the text, flip over the page and then read aloud. The texts are short! I wrote what each student said and then we compared it to the original. But then (following Fanselow’s suggestion) I added stages.

Each student received the text again with a blank space instead of one word in each sentence. They had to look at that text before flipping over the page and reading aloud complete sentences. Once again I wrote what they said and we compared what I wrote with the page with the blank spaces.

Then I gave the students the same text again with more blank spaces.  They looked at it and repeated the process. When we compared the results to the page not one student asked for the original complete text, they didn’t need it.

There are two blank spaces missing after the word “almost”, which got cut off in the photo.

Finally I gave the students a blank page and had them write a complete letter on their own.

It’s interesting to note that I hadn’t expected any of the students to replace any words, as their vocabulary is poor.

But they did. A little bit.

I’ve told these students repeatedly to choose adjectives they remember so as not to use the dictionary much on this section of the exam – they really don’t have time. But some students are “stubborn” – one student always wants to write that her boss is mean but can never remember the word “mean” and has to look it up. Today she simply replaced the word “mean” with “nice”!

Naomi’s Photos

Notes so far:

*The students and I are really enjoying this.

* In the next post I’ll share my “Read and look up” experiences so far with pair work.

* In Fanselow’s book the teacher isn’t the one doing the writing but for now, at least, that tricky with my students who don’t hear each other well.

* There are more elements to the method in the book.

 

 

 

One Tweak at a Time: Reflecting on Fanselow’s Textbook for EFL Teachers – 1. Skepticisim 101

This is part one of my blogging challenge.

As a veteran teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why. 

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – experiment with and reflect on some of the small changes recommended in John Fanselow’s “Small Changes in Teaching, Big Results in Learning”   so as to see how I can keep honing my teaching skills.

Small things add up…
Naomi’s Photos

 

Fanselow certainly knows how to attract a veteran teacher’s attention.  That is no small matter. As an EFL  teacher of Deaf and Hard of Hearing students I don’t actually expect authors to be familiar with my specific classroom setting. I’m used to adapting everything. However, I do need strategies that are applicable for teachers in the national school system with a full work load.

For starters, there’s the title. I never would have chosen a book for my blogging challenge that called for “overhauling your teaching”! “Small Changes”, one “tweak a time” – now we’re talking.

Now forget the title. Take a look at this from the foreword, which Amazon lets you read for free without purchasing the book (No, this is not one of those blogs that has the blogger earning money from clicks on Amazon…):

Look up!
Naomi’s Photos

“My suggestion is for you to be as skeptical about your present practices as the alternatives I urge you to try.”

“…you must not only not believe anything I say but anything anyone else says. Do one of your usual activities, make a small change and compare the effects, over and over and over.”

Oh!

Fanselow is offering me a “win – win” situation.

A small change leads to better results? Win!

The old way gets better results? Now there’s a reason and  a rationale for doing things this way. Win! 

JOY!
Naomi’s Photos

Join me on this blogging challenge as I experiment in class, starting off with the effects of “Read and Look Up” on my students!

You will find that in the next post.

Teachers Grading Finals, Slog Through Bloom’s Taxonomy Too!

Note: This post uses the  revised version of Bloom’s taxonomy as explained in “The Second Principle by Leslie Owen Wilson”. 

It CAN be done!
Naomi’s Photos

Students aren’t the only ones to whom Bloom’s Taxonomy (the revised version) relates to.

Just look at teachers grading finals, during exam “high season”, and see for yourself.

Remembering

Recognizing or recalling knowledge from memory.”

Remembering the ghosts of previous piles of exam notebooks during “exam high season”. Recalling that you did vanquish them and even did so on schedule (thanks to the fun activities you didn’t partake in…).  Remembering not to think of the ghosts of future exam piles…

Really?!
Naomi’s Photos
Understanding

“Constructing meaning from different types of functions be they written or graphic messages…”

Constructing meaning from graphic messages otherwise known as students’ handwriting. Trying to decipher  letters written in an exam notebook which form words you didn’t recognize at first because they had no business being used in the sentence they were placed in.  Understanding that grinding your teeth in frustration isn’t worth it because your dental bills may exceed your salary.

Applying

“Applying relates to or refers to situations where learned material is used…”

From many years of experience you have learned that  “simple” exams  (testing a lower level of English, such as  Module A) can be checked efficiently one at a time, on your lap, in a waiting room, a  crowded teacher’s room or anywhere else. Exams at higher levels are more efficiently checked on a table where they can be slightly spread out and checked in batches, per question.

Time… Naomi’s Photos

 

Analyzing

Breaking materials or concepts into parts, determining how the parts relate to one another…”

Parts, huh? Identifying “parts” is the easy “part” . But how does a teacher fit them all in? You know, time wise?

Grading exams, recording grades digitally, preparing review material and repeat exams, doing housework, dealing with the crowded pre-holiday shopping scene, familial obligations, meeting with friends and relatives you don’t see often enough, attending gym classes, taking pictures, blogging and sleeping

One leg on either side…
Naomi’s Photos

 

Evaluating

Making judgments based on criteria…”

Judging whether it is worth the extra weight and inconvenience of carrying the exam notebooks with you wherever you go so you may take advantage of every single spare moment to keep on grading. Evaluating the advantage of the former strategy vs the unthinkable  danger of forgetting the exam notebooks somewhere…

Creating

“…reorganizing elements into a new pattern or structure…”

Now that you think you have finished grading the exams you must create another version of  every test for the “retake day” . Don’t worry, management cares enough to worry about you being  in danger of suffering from “hubris” due to having prepared an extra version while creating the original exams. Therefore, an extra special exam date will be added at the last-minute so don’t even dream of saying goodbye to the photo copying machine. There’s creating to be done…

HANG IN THERE FELLOW TEACHERS! THANKFULLY THERE’S SO MUCH MORE TO TEACHING THAN GRADING EXAMS!!!!!!!!!!!!

Students Writing for an Authentic Audience affords A Peek into their Hearts

Behind the mask…
(Naomi’s Photos)

Spelling, grammar, vocabulary – it is well known that these skills improve the more students practice their writing. Naturally, when students have an authentic audience to write for, they are markedly more motivated to pay attention to their writing.

In addition to all that goodness,  I discover time and again that such a kind of writing leads to many other meaningful things as well. Meaningful for both the students and the teacher.

I just want to share the joy!

My lovely co-teacher just gave birth and I opened a Padlet virtual wall so that the students could write congratulatory notes for her. My teenage students like  Padlet’s cool backgrounds and the ease in which they can edit and add pictures.  So it’s always a good choice for me. The students were eager to wish their teacher well – no prodding was necessary.  It’s good for a teacher to be reminded that the students care!

  • MOTIVATION – Got that covered! CHECK!
Handmade for you!
Naomi’s Photos

One student  wished the teacher “good health and happy” so we talked about happy vs happiness. Another expressed hope that the teacher would come back next year with ” new powers”, which is a direct translation from Hebrew. So we discussed leaving “the powers” for the superheros and went with “lots of energy”. In short, the kind of discussions an English teacher expects to have, you know what I mean. Some mistakes I did not correct or point out – going  over each note with a fine tooth comb would have been counter productive.

  • VOCABULARY – SYNTAX – GRAMMAR     –  CHECK!

One student started to write his note saying that he hopes the teacher feels better again soon and will come back to class as soon as possible… We had a talk about the fact that  having a baby is not like being sick and in any case the teacher won’t come back soon, she’s on maternity leave. I had a similar talk with a girl in a different group who wanted to write a note but claimed she only knows what to say when someone is ill. We mentioned useful phrases for this situation in L1 as well. Other students did not have this problem and even asked for pictures!

  • PROMOTING SOCIAL SKILLS – CHECK!
Parents?
Naomi’s Photos

One student wrote a particularly long note. Half of the note was devoted to telling the teacher to make sure her husband takes care of the baby too. A sample sentence: you gave the new baby for the world and father need to do something also.hahah :)”. It was a strong reminder of the student’s own “thorny” fatherhood woes  and how it must be an issue close to his heart. I did not point out any errors at all on this student’s note…

INSIGHTS INTO WHAT’S ON STUDENTS’ MINDS – CHECK!

I saw one student having Google translate an entire paragraph typed in L1. I was about to protest strongly  (they are not supposed to do that in class!) until I saw what she had written. The kind of “flowery blessing”, which was obviously something she had encountered at home, was important to her. “This is the right thing to  say when someone has a baby”, she said with a big smile. The student would not have been able to produce sentences such as the following on her own: “That the sun on you will always shine. And your family will grow and blossom. That they sow endless love”. So I just smiled back and didn’t say a word.

LEARNING ABOUT  STUDENTS’ CULTURAL BACKGROUND – CHECK!

In short, wishing someone else well, in written English, did us all good!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “look-alike” Trap on Exams

You won’t catch me!
Naomi’s photos

No pictures, videos or creative games.

I needed a direct, no frills approach, to highlight my point this time.

My high school students’ final exams (internal and then national) are coming up. In between we have holidays and school trips (not to mention a slew of lectures), all cancelling lessons.

The clock is ticking.

It’s time to pick my fights – review skills most of my struggling learners have been able to employ successfully when they actually remember to keep them in mind.

What’s more, I have discovered that using the word “trap” seems to awaken a competitive streak in some of the students, so I’ve decided to capitalize on their awakened interest.

One correct answer and three distractors
Naomi’s Photos

I told the students that  whomever it is that writes the national final exams knows that some students have a system for answering multiple choice questions on reading comprehension tasks.  A system that doesn’t require reading. These students simply look for words that look alike in the options and in the text and then choose their answer without further investigation. For example:

The Sentence from the Text The Wrong Answer
1. Mr. Jay invested 11 million dollars in the football team. X Mr. Jay earned 11 million dollars from the football team.

Such students see the words “11 million dollars” and fall blithely into the trap the exam writer has set. They distractor that “looks-alike” is the wrong one (“Duh”, my strong students would say, but this is not for them)!

So, I challenged the students to outsmart the exam writers and not fall into the look-alike” trap that has been set for them.

Together we examined 8 sentences, which I have modified from actual national exams (I had to modify the sentences to make them clear when being read out of context) and corresponding incorrect answers chosen by unknown students who had forgotten about the “traps”. I didn’t worry about vocabulary – I supplied any glosses needed. The students led the activity, almost all of them were able to explain why the answer chosen was incorrect. Or, to rephrase, what caused the unknown student who picked  such an answer (they, of course, would never do such a thing!) to do so.

The fact that the students were able to analyze the errors successfully with hardly any guidance on my part (mainly glossing or adding context) didn’t mean the activity was too easy.

Quite the opposite.

They seemed to feel empowered. They could avoid a trap! They weren’t going to lose 8 points over nothing!

But will all of this actually come into play when the students take their national finals?

That remains to be seen…

Trapped!
Naomi’s Photos

Here is the worksheet I used. The downloadable document contains two versions  – one with the “critical” words underlined, and the other with no hints whatsoever. I used the version without any words underlined.

***Remember – this is not a worksheet for self-study. It is the discussion that matters. I was even able to sneak in a reminder about superlatives…

the look alike trap-2nwne8w